Graham Parker was born in London in 1950. By the age of 15 he was going to clubs that played the soul and ska music that he loved so dearly. He didn’t learn to play a guitar until he was 18, but by the age of 21 he had been recruited to play in a psychedelic band called Pegasus. Parker had been traveling across Europe and Northern Africa at the time, and the band had a steady gig playing in nightclubs in Tangier, Morocco. Upon his return to the UK the following year, he committed himself to improving his playing and songwriting, perhaps, in part, to have more direction over his career and not have to play with hippies who only write songs in A Minor ever again. By 1975 a few rough demos were recorded by Dave Robinson, who was about to found Stiff Records. One of those songs made it onto Stiff’s introductory compilation, A Bunch of Stiff Records. Here it is: “Back to Schooldays.”
That song would also find it’s way onto Parker’s debut album, Howling Wind, which also featured “Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions.”
Parker was playing with a seasoned pub rock backing band called The Rumour. Their experience, combined with Nick Lowe’s lean production, helped make for a powerful version of Angry Young Man. It is worth noting here that Parker is often compared to Joe Jackson and, especially, Elvis Costello. Having a member of Costello’s band produce your first couple of records certainly doesn’t help. But it is also worth noting that Elvis wouldn’t make his first recording until 1977, and Jackson until 1978. “A-ha!” says the music snob, “So THEY were ripping off PARKER!” Not really. The 1970’s were a horrible time in England, with economic conditions that made Jimmy Carter’s first term look like Reagan’s second. There was a lot to be angry about, so it made sense that there would be more than one genius-level Angry Young White Man Raised on Soul and Ska. We’re all better off for this fact.
Parker wouldn’t break through in the States until 1979, when his album Squeezing Out Sparks would be released. Having left Mercury Records for Arista and producer Nick Lowe for Jack Nitzche, (Phil Spector’s arranger/conductor) Parker was energized and ready to take on America. Was he ready to play nice? Well, his idea of a love song was a vitriolic tune against provincial small town girls, which brings us to the 45: “Local Girls.”
Mean though the lyrics might be, it’s kind of nice to see the local girls be represented in the video by a multicultural crew of ladies who look they could actually be Girls Next Door. Not at all what you’d see today.
The B side was a wired cover of “I Want You Back.” Here’s a live version.
Parker would continue with The Rumour for two more albums. By 1985, he recorded Steady Nerves with his new backing band, The Shot. The album was recorded in New York City, and would lead to Parker leaving the UK for the States. Steady Nerves produced his only US Top 40 hit, “Wake Up (Next To You).” Nice and smooth; it reminds me a bit of The Style Council.
Parker has continued to record in various styles and with a changing line-up of musicians over the years. The studio albums have come out alongside a lot of live albums and a lot of solo contributions to compilations, including this radical re-working of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” from 2003. The drop-out in the middle is breathtaking.
Last year, Parker reunited with The Rumour. The Angry Young Man is now writing songs about healing the earth while comparing life to a long train ride. I shall reserve judgement on the change in lyrical direction until I, too, am 63 years old. In the meantime, the music is still worth a listen.